Charlotte Cushman was an American stage actress (1835-1875), well known for playing “breechs” roles such as Romeo and Hamlet. She occasionally retired from her career and lived in Europe, mostly in Rome, openly with her lesbian lovers, including the famous sculptor Emma Stebbins, best known for her “The Angels of the Waters” AKA The Bethesda Fountain in NYC’s Central Park. Barbara Kahn has written a play about Cushman and her 1858 tour of the USA, The Lady Was a Gentleman, which Broads’ Word Ensemble presented at The Complex Theatres in April. It’s an interesting little snippet of gay and theatrical history. The program notes state that the play “imagines this lost piece of queer theatrical history as a screwball comedy of seduction, mistaken identity, and all the fun you can get away with when you’re famous”. Unfortunately the current production misses the screwball flare and a lot of the fun. Kahn has written some funny situations but Kate Motzenbacker’s stolid direction flattens most of it out to a dull wanna-be romp with few laughs. The cast seems game for some fun shenanigans but just can’t pull it off for more than a moment here and there. Kahn has hampered the play by making Cushman’s friend and maid, a free Black woman, Sallie (Sonja Inge), the narrator. That slows the action down even more. While on the St. Louis leg of her tour, Cushman (Dawn Alden) infatuates both the impressionable young Emma (Maikiko James) and the French poseur Marie Louise Yvette L’Amour (Chantal Thuy). Marie Louise is a mail order bride who has come out to meet her intended, J Partridge (Lacy Altwine) who turns out to be a bonafide Calamity Jane character. Partridge’s courtship of Marie is the comic highlight of the evening. Kahn needs to refine her script and find a director capable of unearthing the laughs.
April 28, 2017: